Monday, October 18, 2021

Zoe's First Trip to Mammoth

It was fated that the first place we'd take Zoe would be Mammoth. We've had so many good times here together through all of the four seasons, from snowboarding in the winter and spring to backpacking in the summer and fall. Going to Mammoth for the weekend used to be our thing, before we had kids. We always knew that having a family would never stop us from returning time and again to these mountains, though. It was just a matter of when, and how to make it go as smoothly as possible. As always with a baby, things are never predictable, and her needs must come first. We didn't know what to expect, but we figured that now that Zoe can sit up well and can sleep on her own, we could venture out on our first "vacation" to show her one of our favorite places on Earth.

The drive to Mammoth is 5.5 hours, which is super long for any kid. We had originally planned to take her to Sequoia first, since that's only a 3-hour drive. But sadly, the KNP Complex Fire and the Windy Fire swept through that entire area, and our reservations were cancelled. So... Mammoth it was. It's so crazy that so much of this trip felt like a sort of experiment. We were able to practice certain things, like diapering in the back seat and napping in the hiking carrier, but there was a lot that we couldn't have prepared for.  How was she going to do with sleeping in a foreign place at night? Would she be able to breastfeed on the side of a trail in the snow? How would we give her a bath in the tub at the Airbnb? What happens if she has a blow-out at the top of a mountain? Would she fuss and scream on the hiking trail? What should we dress her in for the weather? Would she be able to nap at her usual times in the carseat? And would she wake up if we stopped the car or would we have to drive around forever? Did we pack enough diapers?  Did we forget anything?  We never had to worry about any of this stuff before, and I would say that taking care of her and experiencing everything from her perspective was the actual adventure for us this time, more so than hiking to the beautiful destinations. It definitely was also a bit of a test for ourselves, too. Neither of us have done anything this physically strenuous for over a year... unless you count going through labor and delivery, I guess. Well, I guess that explains why I should not feel sorry for Wes for having to carry Zoe for each mile that we hiked on this trip, ha!

It was so fantastic to see Zoe taking whatever we threw at her so well. We are so proud of her!! This trip was unimaginable for what felt like forever. I think I found a piece of my old self again this weekend, and it was beautiful to see that Zoe could be part of that picture. She got to experience all of the elements in Mammoth and took everything like a little champ! And for us parents, the adventure was more about getting Zoe through her first trip happily and safely rather than the trip itself (even though we did tackle some pretty hardcore trails after a long hiatus from serious hiking!). We learned so much and I’m still so thankful and in some disbelief that we were able to realize this dream of a trip with our rainbow baby. There have been so many ups and downs to get to this peak, yet here we are, looking at the endless view ahead and back at all the way that we have come.
On the first day, we spent most of the time driving.  It took a long time to get there, once all of those pitstops for breastfeeding and diaper changing were accounted for.  We also were really looking forward to getting our favorite Hwy 395 foods, like the Alabama Hills Cafe in Lone Pine, barbecue from Coppertop BBQ in Big Pine, and frozen yogurt from Good Earth in Bishop.  Poor Zoe would be awakened from a nap every so often as we popped in and out.  There was a time when I really wished that I was wearing a diaper myself, to avoid having to stop the car to pee.  And also we sat and listened to talk radio for almost the entirety of the car ride for fear of waking her with our voices.  It's funny how sometimes we treat her as if she were a ticking time bomb.  But we were lucky that she was never grumpy about being awakened and would fall asleep with very minimal fussing to the hum of the freeway.  

When we pulled over to enjoy our food in Lone Pine, we laid out a picnic blanket and gave her a toy to play with while we ate, but of course, she was all eyes for the food that we were eating she would not stop watching us eat, so we gave her some of my toast and eggs.  She seemed to be very happy about that!  

After lunch, we made a quick stop to the Alabama Hills to introduce Zoe to the spooks.  This area on the way to Mammoth is such a gem, and the landscape is so contrasted from the high Sierra views we'd be seeing later.  

Then in Bishop, I could not help but share a tiny bit of my ice cream with her.  It was her very first taste of ice cream (and sugar!), but she didn't seem all that impressed.  I think the cold temperature caught her a little bit off guard and then once she realized how tasty this cold stuff was, she reached for the spoon over and over again.  

By the time we arrived at our Airbnb in Mammoth Lakes at 8:00 PM, she had been asleep in the back seat for "the night," and we worried about how we would get her transitioned without her freaking out.  I stayed in the car with her while Wes went to check it out.  When he came back, he said, "The place is so awesome!"  We carried the carseat in with the cover still on it, and tried not to turn on too many lights.  But of course, Zoe woke up to all of the jostling and looked around the room.  She was calm and curious.  We let her roll around on the big bed and she seemed to be pretty comfortable with the surroundings.  Wes set up her Pack-n-Play and the baby monitor while I changed her diaper on the bed and read her a bedtime story.  I had forgotten to pack her usual book, Good Night Moon, and so we ended up buying a cute book called Good Night California at a gear shop in Bishop as a substitute.  I wasn't sure if it was close enough to her usual bedtime routine, but she seemed to be okay.  Then, when it was time to put her in bed, she fell asleep without a problem, to our huge relief!  She even slept through the night (but I didn't, because I woke up at around 3:00 AM with burning breasts and had to pump!).  

We finally settled into the dining room and dug into our barbecue.  Wes had gone to the market while I was feeding Zoe and bought a pack of cole slaw and some breakfasty things.  We were just feeling very grateful to have arrived safely and smoothly, and excited for the adventures awaiting.  We still had no idea how Zoe would do with so many new experiences coming up, but so far things looked pretty promising.  It was also such a good feeling knowing that we were all here together as a family unit, in Mammoth, at last.  Plus, we'd already crossed off a bunch of food things off our bucket list!

The next morning, I walked into Zoe's bedroom and burst out laughing.  She was lying in the corner of her Pack-N-Play travel bed, and it was sagging so much that she was barely visible on our baby monitor screen.  We did notice that it seemed lopsided, but we didn't want to go in and fix it because we didn't want to disturb her sleep.  Who knew that it was this bad, though?!  I'm surprised that she slept through the night like this.  Apparently, the top part of this travel bed is meant only for babies weighing under 15 pounds... oops.  

When I brought Zoe upstairs to see the living room and kitchen, I wondered what was going through her head.  Did she miss her home?  Did she wonder if this was permanent or temporary?  Was she happy to be somewhere new?  We moved the coffee table over and laid out a large blanket on the floor for her to roll around on top of while we had breakfast and packed for the day.  One day when she can crawl, it will be harder to multitask!  Still, getting ready to go out took a while, because we had to make sure that we didn't forget any essentials.  And with a baby, there are so many essentials, ugh!  Finally we were out the door and Zoe was grumpy because we were taking forever and she was ready to go back to sleep!  We loaded up the car and drove down towards Bishop for our first hike, while Zoe snoozed in the carseat.  

It was nice to see that there was plenty of parking when we arrived and I fed Zoe in the back seat while Wes got our stuff ready for Zoe's first high-altitude hike!  It was crisp and cool out, we had Zoe dressed in thermals and doubled up on pants.  She even had her own baby-sized Patagonia down jacket, which Wes loves seeing her in.  We also got her a few pairs of SmartWool socks to make sure that her feet were toasty and added a pair of boots from Amazon, which continually slid off and needed to be re-secured.  We had barely gotten a few feet into the trail before we took all these photos--I think that we were just so excited and amazed that the three of us were out here together!

We have done this trail before around this time of year, and so it was really nice to be back on familiar ground and know what to expect.  The beginning part was a steady and rather long ascent.  I was surprised that Wes was taking it so quickly given the long hiatus we both had taken from hiking and the high altitude.  I was huffing and puffing!  We saw a lot of people on this lower part of the trail and everyone was so cheerful and said hello to Zoe, who said hello back most of the time.  We also had someone take our first family picture in Mammoth for us, standing over this beautiful, beautiful view into the Little Lakes Valley.

We of course had to pull over and find some private places along the trail for breastfeeding and diaper changing, but Zoe did great.  Her eyes roved around while she was eating, but she stayed pretty focused.  It must have been nice to lie down and have something warm to drink on a cold day!  We knew that it was getting towards that three-hour awake time mark though, so if she didn't nap she'd be a grump.  We covered the top of the carrier with her carseat cover to shield out the sun to see if she would doze off while we ate our snacks a few feet away.  Doze off she did NOT.  She started crying and screaming, poor baby!!  An older couple who was just trying to enjoy the scenery nearby looked concerned, and I had to explain to them that Zoe was okay and not to worry--how embarrassing!  After a few minutes, we picked her up and started walking, to see if the step cadence would lull her to sleep.  It worked!  She knocked out in no time.  Then, we hiked in silence for about forty-five minutes while she slept with her head leaning into the carrier.  We usually chat during our hikes, but it was really quite nice to just soak everything in without talking.  We would smile at each other here and there, I'm sure that the same thing was on both of our minds.  It was sort of insane that we were here all together.  This felt like the light at the end of the tunnel, a moment we've been waiting for.  We made it!

We hiked for a good 45 minutes or an hour while she dozed.  When Zoe woke up, we had just arrived at the shoreline of another lake.  I wondered again what she must have been thinking.  Where am I?  Did I fall asleep on Daddy's back?  What is this huge, shiny blue thing that I'm seeing?  Everything to her must have been just so new.  Wes put down the pack for a much-needed stretch break and we pulled her out to show her the lake, fringed with trees, rocks, and mountains.  She looked on in wonder.  Then, we sat her in the shade of the carrier pack and gave her a little bit of this fruit and veggie pouch that we bought before turning around to go back.  Going back took a while, since Zoe needed another feeding and another diaper change.  Also, we must be getting old and slow!  But anyway, it was all so worth it and we were so glad that this first day went well overall.  We ended the night with our favorite pizza from Giovanni's, with plenty of leftovers for the next day.  And this time we put Zoe in the very bottom of the Pack-N-Play, haha.

After a long day, we got home and had Giovanni's Pizza for dinner.  We always look forward to a meal here when we're in Mammoth!  We haven't been since prior to the pandemic, but we were very glad that it still was just as amazing to go as it would have been if we were dining in.  It was nice that our place had a full kitchen for reheating all of the leftovers!  

The next day, we planned to chase some Fall colors near Silver Lake.  Two years ago, we came up to Mammoth to leaf-peep and were rewarded with the most dazzling golden aspen leaves at Lundy Canyon.  If it weren't for the pandemic and being pregnant, we would have come back last year, too.  Now, we have Zoe, who happens to be a leaf lover just like her Mommy.  Indeed, she was entranced by the fluttering yellow leaves.  And for us, it was even better to experience the Fall colors in Mammoth through her fresh eyes--the way the light would catch, the way the branches would wave--it must have been like a 360-degree kaleidoscope for her!  

It was forecasted to be extremely windy this day (gusts up to 60 mph at lower elevations by 2:00 PM), so we had to squeeze our hike in before the afternoon. We ended up doing a hike from Rush Creek to Agnew Lake, which was right near where we were leaf peeping.  We never did make it to Agnew Lake, but we put in several really steep miles.  It was really awesome to see Silver Lake shrinking behind us as we went higher and higher above the tree line.  Zoe was a tough cookie on this hike--it got really windy and it was totally exposed, but she remained calm the whole time.  She eventually fell asleep (with a yellow leaf in her hand, nonetheless) and we hadn't even noticed at all.  I was telling Wes something and when he turned around, I noticed that Zoe's eyes were shut!  We took advantage and kept moving, around the mountain and past the old train tracks, before she awakened again with a smile on her face.  Wes wanted to keep pushing to Agnew Lake, but we decided that it would be best to turn around right after feeding her and changing her diaper because it was just so windy!  I fed her with the carseat cover over my head, acting as a tent around the two of us.  She, again, was so patience with the elements.  On our way down, we barely took any photos because I was really worried about her getting cold (or getting blown off the mountain), but she never complained, not even once.  She must have been taking in the beauty of Silver Lake, surrounded by yellow trees, getting bigger and bigger right before her eyes.

When we got back to our place, she got a nice bath in the big bath tub with some clever maneuvering by Daddy and was able to roll around for a little bit before getting tucked into bed at the end of another long day.  Over leftover pizza, wings, barbecue, and a patty melt and fries from Burgers Restaurant, we discussed how in awe we were over what we all did that day.  I was glad that we all made it up and down safely considering the fact that there were super high winds and some really rocky areas on the trail.  Back before Zoe was born, we would almost never leave a trail unfinished, so I think we both were very tempted to get all the way to the top and then turn around, but we realized that as parents, we now have new priorities.  

During the night, it snowed!  I saw snowflakes floating down silently after feeding Zoe at around 4:00 AM.  This was not in the forecast before we headed out the door two days ago... so we did not pack the snow chains.  The car was stuffed to the brim with our belongings thanks to all that baby stuff, but we should have known.  The weather can change on a dime out there.  Luckily, it only snowed a little bit and we were able to extend our check-out time by a few hours.  We took a little morning walk in the snow and Zoe got to see everything covered in white!  We bundled her up real well--so well that she could barely move her arms, which was perfect because then she couldn't remove her sunglasses!  Once again, she knocked out in the carrier while we were walking around.  All of this new stuff must have been so stimulating for her!  We were lucky because we did catch the last of the Fall colors this season, as the sudden drop in temperature would definitely do away with the ephemeral aspen leaves.  

Wes whipped up breakfast, which he served up with generous slabs of our favorite ciabatta bread ever from Schat's Bakery.  We truly did check off every food item on the hit list, with enough bread to take home.  I had forgotten actually that this was my birthday breakfast!  It was fun to have Zoe join me at the table and munch on her own piece of ciabatta, which she also learned to share with me by holding it out to let me take a bite.  This girl loves bread, so it was very nice of her to be interested in sharing her piece!

By noon, the snow had melted mostly and chain requirements were lifted.  We were about to hit the road when Zoe decided to take a huge dump in her carseat.  Luckily, the poop remained within the limits of the diaper and we were able to get back into the house to change her diaper one final time.  Then, we got on the road only to get off for one last stop at Convict Lake.  It was nice and bright there, but again very windy.  We took a quick picture and then left.  It was very pretty, but Zoe was so sleepy (again!) that I'm not sure how much she was able to appreciate it!  Finally safely tucked into the carseat for a longer leg, she peacefully closed her eyes and did not even stir when I jumped out of the car for some goodies at Great Basin Bakery in Bishop!

We were pretty behind schedule (what schedule, though?) by the time we were homebound in earnest, but it was so worth it to milk every last minute we could in Mammoth.  We definitely didn't want to leave, but it felt like we got to see and do (and eat) everything that we wanted to, which is amazing.  The drive home was long and we still needed to make the necessary stops for changing, feeding, and stretching.  We were in the middle of nowhere around dinnertime and still a couple of hours away from home, but McDonald's nuggets and filet o' fish sandwiches came to the rescue!  

This trip showed us that things were possible, especially in a post-COVID world.  We had been extremely hesitant to go out or travel at all during the whole pregnancy (especially given our history), and still hesitant as any new parent would be with a baby who's never been away from home.  But Zoe showed us that she is resilient and very adaptable and easygoing.  It was great because we were able to live our old life of what we used to enjoy doing together with her.  It was very exciting also to see that neither of us were as out of shape as we could have been, all things considered.  Now, we are optimistic that we can plan more trips like this in the near future.

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